“It was like learning to play a new instrument, and that was really cool.”
— Luis Humberto Navejas, vocalist/musician of the rock band Enjambre, on their first all-English EP, ‘Ambrosia’
Enjambre recently debuted the EP Ambrosia, a project that marks the native zacatecano musicians’ entry into English-language music in their own style of rock ‘n’ roll. Ambrosia introduces the band’s charming, post-punk attitude with poetic vocals that altogether summon retro rock vibes.
Brothers Luis Humberto and Rafael Navejas, who moved from Fresnillo, Zacatecas to California, then back to Mexico again when they were both very young, have been songwriting en español since their days with Los Cuatro Fantasticos, their first rock band, in the mid-’90s.
When they decided to embark on music-making more seriously, like most DIY-indie music projects, things were tough.
“The five members shared an apartment on the outskirts of the city and worked alternate jobs to pay for their expenses, managing to develop their musical career in parallel,” reads press materials.
Enjambre has since created a noteworthy catalog of music. Among their collection is Imperfecto Extraño (the track “Obertura” is majestic, and “Y La Esperanza” is great), Proaño (digging the super retro and futuristic vibes of “Argentum” and “Tulipanes”), El Segundo es Felino (“Madame Siames” is creepy cool), and their unforgettable Daltónico (EMI 2010).
I recently connected with Enjambre’s vocalist, Luis Humberto Navejas, via Zoom, and I began our conversation acknowledging that the first time I heard Enjambre’s music, I didn’t know much about them.
What I noticed right away the first time I saw them perform was how the vocalist connected with the audience. Luis Humberto is engaging, dramatic. His words fall gracefully over the audience like a blanket that lulls you into a profound feeling of comfort, of being where you are supposed to be. He captures one’s attention and does not let go. Luis Humberto’s expressive style, in all its nuances, is powerful.
Watching Enjambre for the first time was memorable for me as it took me back to the music my parents listened to on the radio, or watched on the most popular Spanish-language television show of the time, Siempre en Domingo. It also reminds me of the first time I saw Spanish crooner Raphael, the most romantic, most emotive man I had seen on television, who seemed to control your gaze and your emotions. You heeded his glances.
Luis Humberto’s charm is his own, yet, it’s equally as magnetic.
During our conversation, I mention Raphael and ask Luis Humberto if the Spanish icon is an influence in any way.
“That was kind of a sort of an accident because, you know, when I started playing I wanted to be Kurt Cobain or, you know, Saul Hernandez,” he tells me. “I just wanted to be in a rock band. But when I started writing music, a lot of the stuff that I was writing was sounding more like the music that my parents listened to. Then I embraced that instead of going towards the rock-and0roll, iconic sort of frontman.
“I guess I identified myself more with these Hispanic and Latin American crooners like José José or, like you said, Raphael, Leo Dan. And I guess, I just, we just kind of embraced that personality and our music, and me and the performance. That’s why that’s there.
“But I do love Raphael, and I love his stage presence, and he’s a really nice man. I’ve had the opportunity to hang out with him,” he says, before explaining how they ended up working together.
Luis Humberto also tells me about working with musician-producer Elvis Costello.
“That was great! At first, I thought it was one of those things where people get together, and they’re all there to cover the record of this artist. And that is special, that’s always nice, but, I don’t know. I didn’t know how official it was until it was announced,” he explains.
Artists were teamed up, and Luis Humberto’s romantic retro rock vibes paired nicely with Francisca Venezuela’s electro-pop sensibilities on the track “Hand in Hand.”
“What really made this experience awesome was that Elvis Costello was coming there the whole time,” he adds. “He was behind it. I was on the phone with him, on FaceTime, and … just the things he said about our version of the song were just something unbelievable. It was like, even to consider it was ever going to happen in my life. … This guy, he said this: ‘I didn’t even know the song had a melody until you sang it.'”
I ask him to expand on the differences for him, and the band, when recording Ambrosia completely in English. Their lyricism is normally en español but there have been a few singles in English, like “Makin’ It Back” and “Reddish Sky.”
“Well, first of all, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to write in English because I’ve been writing in Spanish all my life,” he says. “This is the first time I’ve done it in this language. The difference was that it was like opening a door to a whole new dimension. There are different sounds that you can do when singing in English that in Spanish don’t necessarily translate properly, or like, in that sort of rock ‘n’ roll, if you say ‘yeah,’ it’s very different and it takes it to a whole different direction. So it was like learning to play an instrument. I’m going to continue writing in Spanish, which is what I like doing more, but I’m definitely going to write more songs in English as well.”
This is a five-track album, and I wonder aloud why a full album wasn’t released.
“It was an experiment. It wasn’t, we weren’t trying to make a…” Luis Humberto takes a pause, before explaining:
“We had just finished recording our previous record, Próximos Prójimos, and we just couldn’t go anywhere with it because of the pandemic. So, we always had an idea of making a whole record in English but we just didn’t have the time for it. Our priority was still to write our music in Spanish and still is. It was the beginning of the year, of last year (2021) around this time of year, last year, and I was just like, ‘We should work on this English project.’ And they’re like, ‘No, no, no, no, no. If we’re going to do a whole record, then we should do another Spanish one.’ “
Luis Humberto began writing songs in English, and when he finally shared it with his bandmates, they were encouraging and decided to work on a few songs—thus Ambrosia was born. One of the tracks is titled “Delorean,” and I ask if there’s an attraction to ‘80s-related themes.
“Not particularly, but I have a fixation with time-traveling,” he admits. “I have this thing, you know, like I don’t know. It’s like I am obsessed with that concept. And the song is about that frustration about not being able to go back and change things. And if I did, if I was able to change something else would it have been wrong and might I have missed out and other things that I do have?
“Deloreans are really cool cars, and I had mixed feelings about using that car or that iconic time machine because I just didn’t want people to get the wrong idea. But then I was like, ‘Who cares?’ “
Since we’re kind of on the topic, I ask if he believes in parallel universes. “Now that you mention it, you know, maybe I should change my focus? I mean, I don’t know, I don’t know, there might be,” he says as we both start laughing.
The duality comes up on Ambrosia, an introspective EP that calls attention to the reality of the current world we live in, one dominated by social media. How does he deal with that, since he’s not someone who enjoys the ‘likes’?
“I just try to avoid it as much as possible,” Luis Humberto says. “I try to use one of those old-school phones. I try to stay away from social media. I think I have a Facebook, but I never use it. I know I have Twitter and don’t use it. I have Instagram and I check it out every now and then. I am aware that it’s a great tool to promote your music, and I also write children’s books, so I know that I have to stay there, but, just a little bit or just enough so I can promote what I love doing.”
It’s interesting to learn how Luis Humberto compares social media time to devotional experiences.
“Through social media, it’s about transferring your consciousness to this apparatus,” he explains. “It’s kind of like an extension to Próximos to Prójimos, our previous record, where it talks about this adoration towards this apparatus. People are literally leaning their heads down like when you do it for something sacred. All day we have our heads down like we do when people used to pray. To me, that’s something we should be talking about and I don’t understand why we’re not.”
Ambrosia seems like the perfect introduction of Enjambre’s music into a bigger market. They’re not trying to change current fans’ minds—they want to share their music with those who don’t yet know them. The band is currently on tour across the U.S., and on their recent stop in Chicago, photographer Jose Calvo captured images of their show at Concord Music Hall, where they were joined by L.A. band Las Cruxes.
As we conclude our conversation, I ask Luis Humberto if “Crash,” one of the new singles, will be on their tour playlist. It’s just so badass, I say.
“When I heard that song,” I tell him, “I was like, ‘Boom! I love it!” And I love how it starts. To me it’s like “Strawberry Fields,” then it rushes into these fiery rock guitars, and then goes back again. And I like the line ‘You are running just to crash.’ “
“Yeah! That song,” he says. “And I think there’s a part where it says ‘you’re running from the mirror, you show yourself only with filters, you are running just to crash’ and I like the idea of that.”
Then Luis Humberto once again takes me back to that first time I saw them perform when he mentions how important it is for him to connect with the audience.
“I’m more excited to see how the audience is going to be responding because that’s what really makes a difference in our shows,” he says. “We go there to play songs the best way possible, you know, we try and we always put our heart out there. And I’ll tell you something interesting, with what we have in our show, whatever it is … it really comes down to the energy of our audience. You know when that synergy happens between the audience and the band.”
I do know.
Listen to the entire conversation, plus music, here.
Featured image: Luis Humberto of Enjambre performing at Concord Music Hall in Chicago, Illinois, on February 17, 2022. (Jose Calvo)